Japan, which has deposited more than half of the almost $490 million it has pledged for Iraq, chaired the two-day International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) meeting in Qatar.

Since the last follow-up meeting in Abu Dhabi three months ago, Italy joined as a full member of the donors committee, said Ambassador of Japan Shigeru Nakamura in charge of reconstruction assistance to Iraq. He chaired the meeting which ended on Wednesday.

Membership of the donors committee is open to nations that will pledge at least $10 million to Iraq's reconstruction effort.

Finland, a rotating member, was nominated to represent contributors of less than $10 million. Turkey offered its firm commitment to pledge $1.2 million, while Iran said it has a "strong interest" to participate in the future, said Nakamura at the closing news conference.

However, not all donor committee members who had pledged to donate aid actually made deposits to trust funds being maintained by the United Nations and the World Bank.

Korea, Kuwait, Norway, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands have not yet deposited their pledges. Newcomers Italy and Finland have not made their deposits either.

"We would like to see by at least the end of next year all money deposited," Nakamura told Aljazeera.net.

Little action

Donor nations who made pledges at the Abu Dhabi meeting were told that the period until the Doha meeting would be a "commitment to action" period, said Nakamura.

Countries' pledges,
no deposits:

Finland:          Pledge-$6.2m
                         Deposit - Nil
Greece:           Pledge-$3.6m
                         Deposit - Nil
Ireland
:         Pledge-$1.2m
                         Deposit - Nil
Italy
:            Pledge-$12.2m
                         Deposit - Nil

Korea
:           Pledge- $10m
                         Deposit - Nil
Kuwait:           Pledge-$10m
                         Deposit - Nil

Netherlands
:  Pledge-$6m
                         Deposit - Nil

Norway
:        Pledge-$4.3m
                         Deposit - Nil

Spain
:           Pledge-$20m
                         Deposit - Nil

Sweden:        Pledge-$10 m
                         Deposit - Nil

"We had said that this is the time from commitment to action, so why not deposit money?" he said.

When asked why so many states had not made their payments, Nakamura said good-naturedly, "Ask them, not me."

The UN and World Bank can forecast which projects are feasible to launch based only on the available funds, he said.

With some funds still pending deposit, the UN and World Bank have been conducting feasibility studies of projects to be executed later while also working on programmes, said the head of the Japanese delegation.

"Faced with that kind of difficulties we are now having in Iraq in terms of lack of staff on the ground I think we have to admit this kind of situation: pledge and then disburse," he said.

Some nations are working bilaterally with Iraq and not through the UN or World Bank trust funds, including Japan.

Optimistic outlook

The head of the Iraq delegation, Dr Mahdi Hafidh, said it was not unusual for donors to be reluctant to part with their money in the light of the violence gripping the country.

"Mainly they want a new government to be established in the country with international recognition," the minister of planning and development coordination told Aljazeera.net.

"We are not frustrated but we would like to speed up the process," he added.

The Iraqi delegation pleaded for
help to reconstruct the country

The commitment by nations for the trust fund dedicated to collecting desperately needed aid to reconstruct the war-torn country is a "good indication" that donors are devoted to help Iraq, said Hafidh.

However, the Iraq official stressed that the UN needs to be in the country. The world body withdrew its international staff in August 2003 after its Baghdad headquarters came under attack, leaving 22 people dead.

A member of the Iraqi delegation said he had expected the results of the meeting.

"It is a very slow process. It is frustrating for us," said the official, who asked not to be named. "We are in a situation in which we need urgent assistance and the process is very slow."

The donors committee includes Australia, Canada, European Commission, Finland, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the US.

The third donor committee meeting will be held in Tokyo in the third quarter of the year.